Friday, September 28, 2007

Cracker Crust Pizza & Armadillo Eggs.

El Dorado is known as Boomtown, from the big oil boom down there around the turn of the century. In the past ten years or so, it's picked up the title again and ran with it -- with the rejuvenation and promotion of a fabulous downtown. There are all sorts of great shops and places to stay, and unusual sights, too -- like those neat red phone booths you see in England and sometimes even horses and carriages.

But there's a treasure you might not know about -- just because you can't see it from the town square. And if you don't know about it, that's a real shame.

Well, a momentary shame -- because you're about to learn about this place. Read on.

It's not something that will take you back to oil boom times, but it's still a bit of a time machine -- bringing you back to the days when cracker crust pizza was the rage.

Main Street Pizza is a bright spot on dark evenings, a place to bring the family or a date for good food in a clean fun atmosphere. Here you'll find tables and booths just itching to take you back to yesterday.

Beneath a checkerboard ceiling and neon lights, you'll find yourself within a corrugated tin-walled haven. Tables crowd the front of the restaurant, ready to serve a quartet or a party. Memorabilia from the area and the great dining out age line the walls.

The booths are lined up along one wall -- each one with its own inverted tin tub light fixture. I've never seen any of these anywhere before.

The menu is full of good ideas... plenty of salads, lots of sandwich options (including what is purported to be South Arkansas' best Reuben sandwich), and of course the pizzas. You can order large and extra large pizzas, either one of the specials or a "build your own" buffet of choices, rivaled only by Central Arkansas' U.S. Pizza Company. Unlike that particular chain, Main Street Pizza still has green olives as a selection -- a real blast from the past.

My traveling companion and I decided to go for individual pizzas this particular Sunday. The restaurant, which had been half empty when we walked in just before noon, quickly filled with families in their Sunday best. The waitress was wonderfully polite, bringing us iced tea right away along with our bucket of peanuts, before taking our order to the kitchen.

That kitchen was just steps away. Most of the kitchen is actually in the main part of the restaurant, open for everyone to see. There's a real, honest to goodness pizza oven, too -- not one of those conveyor belt jobbies that have become so popular these days. Pizzas, sandwiches, and appetizers are all loaded in the same way -- with a wooden paddle. There's a small prep area, and apparently a place where a buffet is served sometimes, though not on Sunday afternoons.

A bar surrounds the kitchen area, and on one end you can actually sit at it, just like a diner. There are also bags of peanuts to take home, and a hometown selection of little items you can pick up at the register -- including something called "Whoopie Pies." We weren't brave enough to try those. In fact, I'm still not sure what one actually is!

It took less than a minute for our pizzas to be taken from the oven on paddles, shuffled off onto serving plates, passed across the counter and rolled under our noses. Honestly, we couldn't resist. I had planned to take a picture of our divine pies before we ate, but the aroma was just too much, and we dug right in.

Sure, Main Street Pizza could just use traditional dough or something closer to what the other pizza guys are doing, with gooey crusts or sticking in cheese or sauce or whatever. But they don't. Instead, you'll find that your lovely slices of toppings, cheese, and sauce are delivered on a beautiful cracker crust that can actually be picked up with one hand for easy delivery to the mouth!

The restaurant sure doesn't skimp on toppings, either. And the prices were more than reasonable. For our individual pies, the price started at $2.49 for cheese and a quarter for each additional topping. With our drinks, we had a great lunch for under $10.

While knoshing, I looked over and noticed one of the house specialties being pulled from the oven. I just had to get a shot.

These are armadillo eggs.

Well, no, not eggs from real, living armadillos. These unusual treats are very popular here -- in fact, in the short time we were in the store, several baskets went out.

These started life as jalapeno peppers -- they were stuffed with cheese, just like all good stuffed peppers are stuffed. But Main Street Pizza goes off the beaten path after that. Instead of a traditional breading, the peppers are wrapped in sausage, then wrapped again in biscuit dough. These would be the Arkansas equivalent of Scotch Eggs, and they are mighty popular.

You'll find Main Street Pizza on the corner of Main and Jackson, about a block off the square in El Dorado. For more information, call the restaurant at (870) 863-0505.

An interesting side note -- when we got out of the car, we noticed something eye-catching on a building across the street. On closer inspection, we discovered it to be for a bomb shelter. To us, it appeared to be as new as it probably was back when it was posted during the Cold War. It's on the southeast corner of the intersection.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Whatta-memory.

In almost every city or town in America, there is one local hangout that's been around for ages and ages... the place you send out-of-towners to when you want to share a bit of your roots and culture.

Arkansas is full of these places -- whether it's Ms. Lena's Pies in DeValls Bluff or The Front Page Cafe in Jonesboro, they're places you have to experience to get the true flavor of a town.

In Russellville, hands down, it's Whatta-Burger. There is no other place that comes close.

Having lived in Russellville, that says a lot. For the locals, there are other places that hold great memories and great food. Such as the Big Red Drive-In, Taco Villa, and of course Stoby's.

But there's no place that resonates more that the Whatta-Burger.

This isn't one of the chain -- that would be Whataburger -- and you won't find any orange Ws or cheesy promotions here. What you do fine is good food in large portions, at a restaurant splashed with the history of Russellville and Arkansas Tech University.

Bob Feltner built this landmark. The first Feltner's Whatta-Burger came off the grill in 1967. Whether it was an everything burger or plain or even a "sissy" is lost to time.

The burgers are made on an assembly line that would make even Henry Ford proud. When you walk in, a host or hostess is there in baseball cap and apron, waiting to take your order. Each order is written on a paper sack in that marvelous code that old man Feltner developed years ago. Your sandwich order goes on top, followed by the side (French fries or onion rings) and the drink (sodas and fabulously thick milkshakes). Fried pies, you ask for at the register.

After the server takes your order, that sack is handed back to the grill. The grill guys (and gals) look at the order, and it's called out. Meat gets flipped onto the grill and starts sizzlin'. When it's cooked, it's plopped onto buns and shuttled over via paper bag to the dressing area, where lettuce, tomato, pickles and condiments are all added to your custom order. The sandwiches are wrapped, and hefty bags of fries or onion rings are dropped into the sacks with your sandwich. If you're eating in, they're placed on red trays instead.

Milkshakes are all hand dipped and measured, and whether it's something normal like chocolate or something exotic like peanut butter (my brother's favorite) or pineapple (mine) it's served up in a big Styrofoam cup. The medium suits me fine... I once tried the extra large and ended up freezing most of it for later consumption.

And that's the thing -- old man Feltner never did like tiny quantities. He wanted you to be full when you left his restaurant. The fries come in two sizes, half orders and orders -- and Tech students have been known to come across the street, order the full size and dine on them for a week.

There are all sorts of other things on the menu, too -- like hot dogs and bologna sandwiches. You can even make your burger bigger -- calling a Double (two patties of meat), a Double Double (that plus two pieces of cheese), and even a Triple (three patties). I have never once in my life stood in that line and heard anyone ask for a Triple Triple. That would just be way too much food!

Most days, you can find a seat in one of the bright booths in the store. Locals will call in their orders and pick them up at the window -- but if you've never been inside, you are missing something else. Each year before school starts, the restaurant is closed and cleaned from top to bottom. And that's when the decor is changed. Mr. Feltner used to change up the decor completely when he was still alive, but his daughter and her husband just change out a few things. They want it to still retain the feel it had all those years ago.

Some of it is corny -- messages on wooden plaques with advice and folk sayings. There are pictures of three generations of Feltners, along with plaques won by local baseball teams and Wonderboy memorabilia. And you can't miss the awards -- from places like the Arkansas Times and magazines and such. There are letters from celebrities and politicians and plain folk like you and me. And there are the kites and stuffed animals Mr. Feltner loved so much. Most of this stuff has been donated over the years, and all of it is about Arkansas. There's enough to complete a book right there.

And it's definitely a place of love. Mr. Feltner saved many a Tech student from lack of nourishment over the years. He'd run into kids and have a stack of business cards -- when he heard a sad story he'd scrawl out a note on the back of a card for a free meal or burger. Sometimes he'd invite the kid to come over and work for a few extra dollars. To this day, a large part of the staff consists of Tech students trying to make it through college.

Mr. Feltner also helped me get my start. Back then, I was a young student with a yearning to be a radio star. One afternoon I sat in that front booth with my single half order of fries, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life and my potential career, and he came over and talked with me. I told him about my dreams, and my budding new show on the college radio station. He walked away, and came back with a stack of his business cards with his familiar scrawl on the back. The way he figured it, he told me, if I gave people the chance to win a free Whatta-Burger meal every time I went on the air, more people would listen to me.

And he was right.

Mr. Feltner died a few years ago, and his funeral was probably the biggest funeral anyone had ever seen in Russellville. People came from all over Arkansas and all around the United States to pay tribute to this man who gave so much. Sure, it might have only been a meal, but it was that sort of gesture of kindness that meant the world.

Today, you can visit Feltner's Whatta-Burger. It's on Highway 7, known locally as Arkansas Street, across from the Arkansas Tech University campus in Russellville. If you don't have much time to stop, call in your order ahead at (479) 968-1410.

And in case you were wondering -- a "sissy" is just a way of preparing a Whatta-Burger -- with just lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Want it with a slice of American cheese? Ask for a Whatta-Cheese. And don't forget the fries.

Whatta Burger Drive In on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rail history, gimmick free.

The Branson Scenic Railroad is something you might not expect in Branson -- something that is completely historical and not the least bit gimmicky.

That's not to say that there aren't gimmicks to get you to go. You can find the flyers and schedules right along with the show pamphlets and attraction brochures wherever you find Branson information. It's just as glossy as any of the other ads you'll see.

But when you step onto the platform, you're in for a historic treat.

Just like in the glorious past, you go and purchase your ticket at the window in the depot. You wait on the platform to board, and then you can go aboard and grab your seat and settle in for the journey.
And what a journey. You travel 20 miles one way or another (either north further into Missouri or down across the Arkansas border) and more than 100 years into history. My trip was the southern route.

The morning was particularly nippy -- the first cool morning since early May for this area. Surprised tourists had come to ride the train in a variety of t-shirts, recently purchased sweatshirts and the occasional jacket. We waited aboard the platform for permission to board.

Being the morning of September 11th, we were all asked to observe a moment of silence, then the veterans were recognized. This happened all across Branson that morning... a solemn but not overly observant recognition of the event six years ago.

Then we were allowed to board in groups of 25. I had arrived a bit later than I had anticipated, and boarded with the second group. Seating aboard the train is unassigned, so if you want your pick of seats, come early or reserve in advance. Not that there were any shortage of seats; there weren't all that many people aboard for this 9am departure.
I settled into a booth on the “Silver Eagle," a 1949 Budd 60 Seat Coach next to the vestibule where passengers were boarding. I set up my pen and camera and waited to go.

And it didn't take long. Soon we were rolling along the rails beside the Branson Landing.
After a brief pause while the rails were switched, the train started to gather steam (well, not really, since these are diesel powered locomotives) and headed out along the way.
The train picked up over Lake Taneycomo after passing one of the largest RV parks I have seen in the area. The RV park is recent -- and busy. Just a few years back this land below the 65/76 bridge between Hollister and Branson was little more than an unoccupied flood plain. Now -- those who want to stay in their own portable homes have a place to pull up and plug in, right by Branson Landing.
Over the bridge and out into the county -- we proceeded to the only occupied town along the route. Shops still line the tracks at Hollister, MO. It became a tourist attraction around the turn of the 20th century because of the ready availability of passenger train service. There's a small depot beside the tracks that was built in 1910. Now it's a community center.

Further along, there's Turkey Creek, which parallels the route for quite some time. It's a shallow, clear creek with shoals and rocks. The clear water looked refreshing, but with the chill in the air there were really no thoughts of taking a dip.

The train travels three to four times a day along track laid for the Missouri Pacific railway. The narration tells you about the history of the train and the track, about the men who made less than $2 a day carving tunnels through hills and building trestles more than 100 feet high, just to bring rail service through the area. The narrator talks about the trestles in length -- especially about the fact that these once barren wood trestles have all been packed in with gravel and soil, so they now appear as earthen berms along the route. What an incredible feat.

You also learn about the ghost town of Melva, wiped out more than 60 years ago in a tornado and never rebuilt. This once prosperous town just didn't rebuild. You can still see the remnants of the town's hotel on the hillside.

On through the first tunnel -- and it was at this point that one of the helpful engineers came through and mentioned that I'd have a lot better chance at getting great shots from the dome car. For some reason, it hadn't occurred to me. So I carefully started making my way along the train.

The noise in the vestibules is considerable -- but it also reinforces the feel of history. Imagine how this must have been when rail travel was the only way to go, before the advent of air travel and all its glory. The rumble of the tracks below echoes the movement in the vestibule -- which actually bends as the tracks turn.
From the coach car I walked into the concession car, the “Silver Lake," a 1951 Budd Buffet Lounge decorated in shades of brown and burnished chrome. Here you can grab a snack or a meal during your trip -- hot dogs, cold drinks, and candy, among other things. Just remember you're on a train -- unfortunately, one poor woman dropped her nachos in the vestibule on my Tuesday morning trip. The staff here is very chatty, very interested in the people who come aboard. As you stand in line (handrails are provided), you can choose your selections from the caged cabinets next to you or have one of the lovely ladies behind the counter fix you something warm.
Further along, you pass into the “Silver Terrace," a 1952 Budd Dome Observation car. For some odd reason, the first open doorway along this stretch contains a playroom for the kids. I suppose kids need to be entertained on any trip -- and with the average run being about an hour and 45 minutes, this makes sense.

In the next compartment, I found the narrator at his station and a couple of occupied booths. The narrator suggested I turned around -- and then I saw the staircase.

Up this stairway is the top of the dome car -- a passenger area with windows all around. The car was designed to take advantage of the best clearance along the rails, and it poked out above the rest of the train.
This does allow for some very unsettling moments for some -- when the train enters tunnels that appear to be low to accommodate the elevated domes. But there's no better view by far.

I snapped off a couple of pictures right off the bat, then proceeded back in the car to the rear.

Seats in this section are arranged booth style -- without the tables, of course. I'm sure those who have a hard time traveling backwards appreciate the chance to change seats and ride forward on the return trip!
On through the second tunnel, and then forward on to two more trestles.
The train stops at the Barren Fork Trestle, and there's a short time where you can look out over the valley in either direction from high above, while one locomotive is powered down and the next is powered up.

Here I was afforded some of my best shots -- the dome car's windows are kept impeccably clean (which must be quite some effort, since they're so far off the ground!) so everyone has a clear view of the way.
Several of my traveling companions took the chance to come stand at the rear of the dome with me, snapping pictures and chattering.
From this angle I was able to capture both of the tunnels on the way back in grand fashion. Going through the second tunnel, the crew cuts the lights, and the narrator made a remark about "heading for the light at the end of the tunnel."
For most of the journey back, the narrator allows passengers to enjoy the sounds of music from the grand era of rail travel -- hits from the 20s through the early 50s -- and not just expected hits like "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" (though of course it's played -- the trip probably wouldn't have seemed complete without it).
There's a real sense of yesteryear.
Unfortunately, I've never ridden on a train traveling backwards while taking photographs, and I suddenly found myself a bit seasick. Surprised by the situation, I asked others in the compartment if they'd had the same reaction. It was explained to me that I wasn't that unusual. Think of it like this -- the rails are the fulcrum on which the train operates -- and the higher in the train you go, the further away you are from the base. Which means -- if you are in the dome, you're going to move around a lot more than if you're downstairs.

I made my way back down and settled in the concession area. As we streamed along the rails again, I talked with the wait staff. This is apparently one of the lighter days -- usually the train has a lot more passengers. Perhaps the suddenly nippy weather has encouraged many to sleep in?

And quicker than I expected, we were rolling back over Lake Taneycomo and traveling into downtown Branson. There was another pause as the tracks were switched -- and as we waited I looked out and saw a woman in her SUV staring back as she sat at the crossing. It's another reminder that we've moved on from the fantastic rail world... and into our own personal realm.

There are certain charms about traveling the rails. You can eat, sleep, and entertain yourself aboard the train; meet new friends, and more (of course, being a short run, there's no need for a sleeping car aboard this train). You are, of course, at the mercy of the rail schedule and switches and you can't exactly drive up to your house in a train.

But perhaps we've lost something by not having this great mode of transportation available. Yes, I know Amtrak runs through Little Rock and other points in Arkansas, but how charming can a silver bullet be, compared to this proudly period example of early 20th Century rail travel.

Don't get me wrong -- this isn't a perfect reproduction. While the cars have been restored, they do show the heavy passenger load they've carried over the years. There are some torn seats, some scarred windows and plenty of rough corners. But that's perfect -- this train isn't new by any means, and it's proud of that fact.

On deboarding, I captured shots of the platform -- it amazes me that the platform is built so close to the rails. There's just a matter of inches between the cars and the wood. I love the geraniums planted alongside -- they make a nice touch.
And two of my gentlemen hosts were proud that I'd want to photograph them -- heck, they even agreed to put their arms over each other's shoulders! What a fantastic crew!
As I left the platform, I passed another group of passengers waiting to board. I looked over the crowd, and saw so many faces above t-shirts and jackets with all sorts of messages that broadcast these current days. Take away those costumes, and these folks could just be any group traveling to a distant city... or in this case, a distant past.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bridges and strings.

Violet Hensley plays the fiddle. She makes fiddles. You could say she’s spent a lifetime, fiddling around.

And what a remarkable woman she is.

But this particular Friday morning, there was a nip in the air. A cup of cider
would have been nice, but instead Violet kept her eyes to her work.

This small section was the back of what one day will become a very, very tiny fiddle.

You could say violin, and Violet would nod and know what you’re talking about, but in her world that’s a fiddle and that sort of instrument has been part of Violet’s life since, well, since always.

And always spreads back all the way to the Roaring Twenties, though she’s not likely to call her formative years that. In fact, Violent doesn’t use much of the cliché and slang words we use. She’s a lady, after all, and that’s not how ladies talk.

Violet shares her craft each year with an everchanging public. She has a booth at Silver Dollar City, where she peddles a few CD albums of her music and shares a craft she’s loved since childhood -- the creation and the playing of the fiddle.

Violet didn’t go to school to learn music. She was well into her maturity before she ever took a formal music lesson and learned what all those notes on a page meant. She didn’t even know the names of the notes she played, She just played what she heard.

Violet’s father had a fiddle form, and when she was a young woman she made her first fiddle. She’d later marry, and as she puts it, she had to choose between a jealous husband and her instrument, so she sold that wooden wonder and started about the business of having a family. 37 years later, she’d retrieve that valued instrument and pick up with her musical life.

And what a life. As we chatted that unnaturally cool September morning, a young man sat behind her with a guitar, quietly practicing chords. A little girl, not even two years old, toddled up to her booth with a bag of candy from the candy shop next door. This little brown eyed tyke is Violet’s great, great granddaughter.

The family is very involved at Silver Dollar City. The woman who came up to usher the toddler into her place in the booth is Violet’s daughter, and the young man a grandson. Violet says she’s been blessed -- with 42 grandchildren and 42 great grandchildren and 12 great-greats. What a legacy.

We talked for a while, as her audience came and went. She showed off that first fiddle, a fine instrument that’s taken the wear and tear of almost eighty years with grace. Some things grow better older -- but Violet will tell you that you do improve to a certain point and then level off a bit!

She showed off other instruments -- including one a gentleman brought up for a little work. She recognized that piece right off -- a blond fiddle with a horse head that had been gone several years. She also showed necks and backs and bridges she was working on.

She told me the little fiddle back she was working on now was something she’d been fiddling with (the pun is unintentional) for decades. One of her oldest forms, more than a century old, has the band of wood that will be the outside of the box, holding its form for her. She told me her eyesight is starting to fade a bit, with that macular degeneration, so maybe one of her children or grandchildren will complete the tiny fiddle, gluing it together and adding the tiny details.

It used to be easy, she said -- showing off the tiny fiddle pins she made that she still wears. But after 91 years, you start to wear out a bit.

Violet says on her 90th birthday, the folks at Silver Dollar City threw her a big party in the square, and she danced. She loves to dance.

Violet remembers when this big attraction in the Ozarks was just a tiny little village, when the original owners planned it all out with its square and gravel trails. She told me about the couple who fell in love with the idea of this quaint Ozark craft village that would keep the turn of the century alive. She also told me the woman kept her husband’s dream alive, when he passed away just before the park opened.

Lots of things have changed. The trails are all paved and the park has increased in size nearly 10 times over, and now in the distance you can hear kids screaming and hollering from riding PowderKeg or The Giant Swing. You can hear the train whistle and the muted conversations of thousands of people. And from Violet’s booth, the chime of the blacksmith’s hammer on anvil make a nice accompaniment to the excitement of the day.

But for Violet, there’s just fiddle music, and she will play until she stops. And that’s good enough for her.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Oh, gee, the Duttons aren't just talented...

they're one heck of a funny family.

Went to the show the night of Monday, September 10th -- a dark and rainy night, when the clouds hung in the air like thugs outside a movie theater in a seedy neighborhood.

But inside this Branson theater is a good natured family of interesting and talented people who just happen to be related to each other.

After checking in, I went inside to the concession stand, where popcorn is still reasonably priced and you can purchase anything you'd want if you were going to the movies -- and there's fudge. Oh my, there is fudge.

Took my seat and looked around. The theater wasn't packed to the gills, but it was well-populated with people who had come from all over to see the show. The boys came out and sold light-up "swords" to the audience for $5 (a pretty darned good bargain, considering) and the tour groups were clamoring for more.

Before the main show, the group Island Fire came out to perform a couple of numbers. Their show plays each Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 2pm at the theater... and I bet it's grand.
The group performed a lively Samoan dance number, complete with sarongs. Then one of the guys showed off with a fire dance. Incredible. Somehow or another I am going to have to make some type of time to go see them this week.

After that... all craziness happened. The audience was forced to endure a round of video clips from Dutton fans who would rather be in Branson, watching the show. I say forced, but it was more like suggested... and everyone watched. I may have injured myself laughing at some of the pieces.


There are definite family resemblances among the cast members -- heck, that makes sense, since they're all family! And when they all started to jam, it was something else. Not too far into the lengthy set, the Duttons did a tribute to Box Car Willie, who once performed at the theater. A good tribute, too -- too many people have cheesed up his memory, but he was a great performer and deserves to be remebered with respect.

The moment I was won over came a short time later, when the guys formed a trio, headed out into the audience, and sang "Good Enough For Now" to the ladies. I have never heard the song performed live before -- because Weird Al Yankovic hadn't released it when he was last on tour. After the show I was informed that yeah, most folks didn't know who it was from, but it sure was a crowd pleaser.

The kids (Dean and Sheila Dutton's grandkids) started popping up through the show on such numbers as "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "Jailhouse Rock," with 10 year old Jessica rockin' out and three of the younger kids jamming on imaginary instruments with her.

Along the way, you learn more about the Duttons... the fact that Dean and Sheila were told they wouldn't be able to have kids (Sheila told the audience "I guess we had the last laugh!" and "I was afraid to stop!"), that they have seven of their own blood and seven they've made their own -- teenagers adopted from other countries to become part of the broad Dutton family. You learn that there are now 18 Dutton grandkids (number 19 is coming soon, if Abigail's "swell" contribution is to be believed -- and from what I overheard her saying after the show, that would be correct). You learn that each of the kids started to play the violin at five (Ben jokes that the kids didn't have to play before school -- they didn't have to eat, either), and that Sheila took her first music lesson at 37 so she could learn to play the bass -- and become an integral member of the family band.

But what you also learn is something that's not said or written down everywhere. This is a family that truly enjoys being together -- working together, living together, traveling together. And that's something very unique and special. In a world where small families even have difficulties staying together -- to see such a large and extended family that works, stays, and plays together is really something.

That alone is worth a story.

But the bigger story is just how original and funny this show can be. There's a good reason the Duttons made it to the finals in America's Got Talent -- these folks are good. They have an inherant talent that can't be ignored. Every one of the second generation of Duttons is a world class musician -- and when you bring it all together -- bam! -- it's something else.

Which brings me to the other part. Close to the end of the show, there was a power failure or something. Something took out the audio and a good portion of the lights. At first, I figured this was planned -- because the show just kept humming along. It was storytelling time, and we were all entranced, wondering what the next thing was going to be. And finally, the last song happened -- a great number where all the brothers and sisters switched instruments several times, and at the end most of the grandkids came out and played all together on their tiny violins.

From what I understand, the outage wasn't planned -- but it was okay anyway. Like a strong house, this family can weather any storm. And they do it with grace and peace and a happy contenance. I felt like I'd been sitting in their living room on an old plush rug, watching the kids pull out their violins and gather around the piano.

If you get a chance, go by and see The Duttons -- they perform April through December in Branson -- usually Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday -- and sometimes Tuesday but never on Sundays. Shows are at 8pm when they perform, and sometimes they'll do 2pm shows, too.

And if you want to hear what the family sounds like, check out their MySpace page, too.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Kat's photo gallery


Here is a selection of random pictures not included in Tie Dye Travels, but that still deserve a viewing. I'm just a hobbyist when it comes to photography, but I'd love your comments. And, if you'd like to use any of these images, please contact me.

A church in El Dorado, AR, about a block from Main Street Pizza. This was taken on an August afternoon when the air was almost perfectly still.






This is a preparation of a dish from the Middle Ages called "Orange Omelet for Harlot or Ruffian," basically a sweet omelet. My team made this during the Siege Cooking competition at an SCA event, Midsummer Knight's Dream, in September 2007. It was tasty.

This picture was taken in Dennard, AR on September 9, 2007, just south of the big runaway truck ramp on Highway 67. I was on my way to Branson, two days after leaving my old job as producer for Today's THV This Morning. The sky was overcast, and the weather was surprisingly chilly for a day in early September.

A picture taken on the Branson Scenic Railway in the Dome Car on September 11, 2007.













While writing up the Tour of Missouri bicycle race, I captured this shot of a bicycle racing team from Mexico, warming up. Picture taken on September 13, 2007.






This is a shot of the backside of the tiny smokehouse building at Booger Hollow. My brother and I traveled up there on October 17, 2007. The fog was so heavy, it muffled everything. Though the car was still running, when I was on this side of the smokehouse, I couldn't hear it. The place felt haunted.

We were on our way back from Alread, halfway to Clinton, on an incredibly stormy afternoon. We rounded a curve and saw a strange rainbow -- full of purples and yellows but no green at all. This shot was taken in the opposite direction, towards the setting sun. My mom has a similar picture taken from Little Rock on the same day. This is the picture you see rendered in black and white at the top of the Tie Dye Travels page.

This is a shot of the old Kiwanis Hall at Camp Taloha, outside of Pine Bluff, AR. It's falling apart, but is a beautiful old structure. A new, modern hall has been built at this former Girl Scout camp, and the folks who run the camp are evaluating ways to bring the old hall down. I wish it could be renovated. It's all old timbers and screen inside, but it's a beautiful piece of history and it will be a shame when it's gone.

A cypress tree off the dock at The Dock restaurant in Lake Providence, LA. Picture taken October 28, 2007.













My brother Zack and I sighted this rock formation outside of Calico Rock, AR on our trip up to visit the ghost town up there.






My husband makes fun of me for taking these road shots... but I love the perspective. Taken on Highway 9 outside of Mountain View in early November, 2007.





I caught this shot while traveling Highway 70 just east of Forrest City in early November 2007.








The replica of the Nina against the Memphis skyline in November 2007.














Koi in a fountain at the Excelsior Hotel in Jefferson, TX on November 15, 2007.













A potter in action, wheelthrowing a pitcher at Marshall Pottery on November 16, 2007.








The Black And White Cheesecake at Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro - Bossier City, LA on November 17, 2007.







The folks at Garvan Woodland Gardens light up the gardens each holiday season. They offer hot chocolate to visitors, as well as a chance to roast your own marshmallow.


A view of a Christmas light Koi reflected in the koi pond.







Cypress swamps outside of North Little Rock on Highway 70 on December 1, 2007.








Another angle at the cypress swamp.










The old Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock.













University Mall, mid-December 2007. It's about to be torn down for a new development.












A rainy day at the Lonesome D Ranch near New Blaine, AR.









The tracks at Traskwood, AR.










The old Fordyce Bathhouse on Hot Springs' Bathhouse Row. I went down just a few days before Christmas, but couldn't grab a story -- no one wanted to talk so close to the holidays!




A friendly dog greets me at my car at Chateau aux Arc in Altus, AR.









An old gas lamp in Van Buren at sunset, December 28, 2007.









A creek off the Arkansas River at Van Buren at sunset, December 28, 2007.








The old Daisy Theatre on Beale Street in Memphis, January 7, 2008.












Shot from the corner pocket of a pool table at Jillian's at Peabody Place in Memphis on January 7, 2008.







Bowling balls in the basement bowling alley at Jillian's, January 7, 2008.








A surf and turf roll and Lemon Drop martini at Swig's in Memphis, January 7, 2008.








Stairwell at the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, January 8, 2008.













Storm coming in to Memphis over hotel across from the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum, January 8, 2007.

This is a church at Copley and Clarendon in Boston, Trinity Episcopal Church. It's one of the first buildings I photographed in Boston, after getting off the subway at the wrong stop on Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008.

The fantastic relief work on another church about four blocks away, just off of Newbury.


The John Hancock Tower, photographed from Copley Square about a block from the Boston Public Library.




A view of the Beacon Hill area from the Skywalk Observatory, Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008. It looks like a quilt to me.


Once again putting my nose to the grindstone.




Faneuil Hall, Thursday, January 24th, 2008.





On the left: Louis Garcia, longtime friend and transplant to the Boston area. Couldn't ask for a better guide. On the right: Paul Robinson, my dear husband. Can you tell he talks with his hands?



I haven't a clue what building this is, but it's pretty. This picture was taken from an intersection by The Place, near Mr. Dooley's.




Shot taken down the Greenway (above what's been called the Big Dig) near Haymarket. I see this and think: monolith.


Christopher Columbus Park.




Boston skyline from East Boston.



My husband Paul and I, freezing our batookas off.




These items part of a complete breakfast at the Onyx Hotel. I especially appreciated the wide variety of fresh fruit and granola. Oh, and they have bacon, never fear.




Taken on a frosty morning in Haymarket, Friday, January 25th, 2008.



A snow-buried creek in Brattleboro, VT. I fell in a snow drift to get this shot. Sunday, January 26th, 2008.



Amtrak train at Brattleboro crossing.



A snow-covered deck next to Hotel Pharmacy in Brattleboro.




The market at Faneiul Hall after the snow, Monday, January 28th, 2008.




A random building in the North End.




The bar at Mr. Dooley's.



Shot from the Park Street subway station entrance.


One of the ticket offices at Fenway Park.


I can now say I've sat in a seat at Fenway Park.



The ballroom at the Parker Omni House, home of Parker House Rolls and the place where the Boston Cream Pie was created.



Twilight shot in Boston's South End.



A classic brownstone street shot.



A Rasputin martini at the Beehive, a cool Bohemian restaurant in the South End.




Copley Place through a monument near Back Bay Station.



A nighttime shot of Back Bay Station.




Waltham at night.

The river at Waltham during the day, Tuesday, January 29, 2008.




Another shot of ice and ducks on the river.



Stuffed quahogs at Watch City Brewing Company in Waltham.




A table at the Tuscan Grill in Waltham.




Soaring over the clouds on the flight from Manchester, NH to Chicago, IL's Midway, Wednesday, January 30th, 2008.